Making Sense of Sustainability

Hi there!

So yesterday I was asked a great question about the environmental impact of paper towels versus washing and reusing bar mops. Is it really better to reuse them or does tossing a paper towel equal to the amount of energy and water used to wash a reuse a bar mop? I was also asked what the difference is between a dish cloth and a bar mop? Really there isn’t, one is just for cleaning up in general (bar mop) and it’s what they are called in the restaurant industry. But feel free to call them whatever you like.

As for the first question, that’s a complicated one to answer because manufacturing of paper towels and mops vary so differently from place to place. But if you break it down into two factors, water consumption to produce paper towels and compare it to the amount of water to wash towels then we can get a bit of a insight into the issue. I am using information found of the web and from my own personal HE washing machine to do the math here, so this isn’t 100% definitive due to variation in manufacturing, roll size and what not. Just basic numbers to give a general idea with a margin of error.

So let’s start with some paper towel numbers. So it takes 20,000 gallons of water to produce 1 ton of paper towel. If a roll of paper towel is approximately 1/2 lb, then there should be about 4000 rolls of paper towel per ton. That makes each roll consumes 50 gallons of water each in production, which doesn’t include the water needed in the production of the fossil fuels to create the towel nor the fossil fuels to transport it to the store or any of the water needed for its packaging.So, that’s about 1 gallon of water per sheet of paper towel.

In comparison a bar mop in our house can be used 5-8 times before needing to be washed (as long as it wasn’t soaked or used for raw meat etc). So for easy math, let’s say 5. So one bar mop is equivalent to 5 paper towels, but can be used for 5 years before needing replacement. 5 paper towels a day, means the average home uses 3 50 sheet rolls of paper towel a month, 36 rolls per year (the Bounty website actually says Americans use 4 times this amount! I am going with my personal households estimation of use), making that 180 rolls over 5 years. And that is 9000 gallons of water in paper towel use in 5 years.

Okay, so we got that down. Let’s see how the bar mop does over 5 years

Now my HE washing machine uses 13-15 gallons of water per large load of laundry. My front loading HE washed accepts 18 lbs of clothing, or in a measurement of bar mops, 4 bar mops per pound, so 72 bar mops per load (but I only own 10, so they generally go in the laundry with other dish towels, this is just for the sake of math). With a usage of 15 generous gallons of water per load, that’s 27 oz of water per mop per wash.

So, that’s one mop per day, or 30 per month, so 600 single mop washes per year, and making that a grand total of 125 gallons of water used to wash the bar mops for the year and 625 gallons of water in 5 years.

There you have it. Paper towels 9000 gallons of water used in production (not including packaging and transportation) over 5 years on comparison to 625 gallons of water for the wash and reuse of cotton bar mops.

But wait, there is more! Some of you are going to say, what about the production of the cotton?! It’s a heavy water user! Yep it sure is! It takes on average 350 gallons of water to produce one pound of cotton from seed, to farm to fiber. That is about 88 gallons of water per quater pound mop.

So let’s wrap this up. 88 gallons of production cost plus 625 gallons of washing is 713 gallons of water for the production and maintenance of a bar mop compared to 9000 gallons of water for paper towels over a 5 year period.

Could we talk about the water use of detergent sure! The cost of chemical treatments for both sure! But we would all probably be asleep by the time I finished here. The question was about the overall use of water and the impact on the environment. In that catagory, bar mops win over and over again.

So, even with a generous margin of error, I think we can agree what the numbers tell us.

Something to mull over right?

– Heather

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